Suspected U.S. drone strike kills 8 in Pakistan

Eight people were killed in northwest Pakistan after a suspected U.S. drone launched a missile strike on Tuesday, say officials.

Army intensifies anti-Taliban offensive

Eight people were killed in northwest Pakistan after a suspected U.S. drone launched a missile strike on Tuesday, say Pakistani security officials.

The attack destroyed a house in the village of Sara Khora in the South Waziristan tribal region, they said.

The identities of those killed were not immediately known.

The mountainous South Waziristan is a Taliban hotbed and thought to be home to the leader of the militant group's Pakistan wing.

Two security officials, citing initial intelligence reports, said eight people died. They declined to be identified.

Yar Mohammad, a resident of the area, told The Associated Press by telephone that he had seen Taliban militants removing nine bodies from the building and taking them away in vehicles. The discrepancy over the number of deaths could not be reconciled immediately, but was not unusual in the aftermath of such attacks.

The U.S. military does not usually confirm whether such attacks have taken place.

The U.S. has increased its attacks in the past year, dispatching 40 such strikes since the start of 2008. There has been shifting from this strategy since Barack Obama was inaugurated as U.S. president in January —16 attacks have come this year, five of them in April.

The Pakistani government has decried attacks by unmanned U.S. drones, calling them an affront to sovereignty. Critics have said the missile strikes fuel anti-Western sentiment and boost support for militants.

U.S. officials say the strikes, apparently carried out by CIA drones, have killed a string of al-Qaeda operatives and minimized civilian casualties.

Pakistan steps up assault

Meanwhile, helicopters dropped Pakistani commandos behind Taliban lines as the army stepped up its offensive on militants in the Swat valley.

The commandos entered the valley's Pinchar area, which officials say is one of the bases for an estimated 4,000 Taliban militants also entrenched in Swat's main towns. It is seen as possible hiding place of Swat Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah.

A military spokesman declined to give details of the Pinchar assault. Until recently, the military has not sent in a significant number of ground troops to the area. It has instead relied heavily on air strikes and artillery attacks since the offensive in Swat began full-scale on Thursday.

Fighting has intensified in recent days after a peace deal struck last February between the regional government and hardline cleric Sufi Muhammad failed to take hold. The deal would have allowed for Islamic courts in the valley in Pakistan's North West Frontier province. 

The Taliban began taking control of swaths of territory in and around Swat in April, eventually seizing Buner, a town 100 kilometres from the capital, Islamabad. The Pakistani government has moved to counter these advances, and has said it will not let up until all militants are driven out of Swat.

The army estimates some 700 militants have been killed in the offensive. This tally has not been independently verified.

The United States, which accused Pakistan of capitulating to the Taliban by signing February's deal, has praised the recent offensive.

But the push has forced hunmdreds of thousands from the area, sparking fears of a humanitarian crisis. The UN refugee agency estimates that as many as one million people have been displaced by the fighting.

With files from The Associated Press